A man in New Orleans faces a hefty sentence for allegedly stealing $31 worth of candy from a Dollar General store last December.
Jacobia Grimes, 34, who pleaded not guilty on March 31, could serve anywhere from 20 years to life in prison, under the multiple offender law in Louisiana.
The law applies to people who have been convicted of “theft of goods”—at least twice.
Grimes has been convicted of theft five times, which automatically makes him a “quad” offender under the state’s habitual-offender law.
“Isn’t this a little over the top?” Criminal District Court Judge Franz Zibilich asked, who was overseeing Grimes’ arraignment last week.
“It’s not even funny. Twenty years to life for a Snickers bar, or two or three or four,” the judge said.
Grimes’ attorneys, Miles Swanson and Michael Kennedy, said his prior guilty pleas—from 2001 to 2010—were for the same offense: shoplifting.
Grimes shoplifted in Rite-Aid, Sav-A-Center, Blockbuster Video, and Rouses stores—all involved thefts were less than $500 worth of items, Swanson said.
Swanson said Grimes could have been charged with a misdemeanor under a different statute rather than the habitual-offender law.
“They’re spending their time to lock someone up for years over $31 worth of candy,” Swanson said. “It’s ridiculous.”
According to the New Orleans Advocate, Grimes was previously convicted for possession with the intent to sell fake drugs, and obscenity, a crime committed while he was behind bars.
Since March 2001, he has spent a total of nearly nine years in state prisons, mostly for shoplifting: first a year, then 18 months, then three years and finally a little over three years ending in 2013, according to state Department of Corrections spokeswoman Pam Laborde, the newspaper reported.
Kevin Kane, of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a libertarian think tank, told the Advocate that Mr. Grimes‘ case is something that needs to be revisited.
It’s obviously an example of some of the situations that you inevitably end up seeing when you have some of these habitual-offender laws. There’s no perfect solution. We always face this dilemma: Do you make sentences very flexible and run the risk of people who have done something bad not getting tough enough sentences, or do you make them very rigid?
Mr. Grimes, who also faces a charge of drug paraphernalia possession, is out on a $5,000 bond, the Advocate reported.
He is due in court next Wednesday.